Rutgers hands No. 22 Northwestern first loss of season, draws in scoreless game against Illinois

<p>Senior forward Erica Murphy came off the Knights’ bench and scored a goal in Rutgers’ 2-0 win over Northwestern Friday.<br></p>

Senior forward Erica Murphy came off the Knights’ bench and scored a goal in Rutgers’ 2-0 win over Northwestern Friday.

In an important weekend with two visiting conference opponents, the Rutgers women’s soccer team saw two drastically different outcomes.

The Scarlet Knights (7-1-2, 2-0-1) earned an impressive 2-0 victory on Friday in the first match versus Northwestern.

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Rutgers held the Wildcats without a shot on goal for the entire first half and completely dominated possession.

In the 33rd minute, senior forward Erica Murphy scored a superb goal after coming on as a substitute.

Freshman midfielder Taylor Aylmer, who also came off the bench, set up the play with a great run down the middle of the field. 

Aylmer dribbled past several defenders and drew the attention of the two Northwestern center backs, freeing up Murphy on the right flank. After receiving a concise and sharp pass, Murphy placed her shot easily beyond the outstretched goalkeeper.

“Taylor had a great run and she slipped me a great through ball in the box,” Murphy said. “As a team, we were locked in to take them down.”

The Knights as a whole were largely masterful throughout the night, especially the first half, and could have probably peppered in a few more goals.

In the second half, though, the Wildcats came out much more determined and were able to contain the ball for extended periods of time, as well as creating quality chances.

“Every game is a battle in this league and we’ve got to come out to play each time,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “Northwestern doesn’t give up a lot of goals, and we were excited for the opportunity to end their winning streak.”

The Wildcats entered the game with a perfect 9-0-0 record and Rutgers accomplished its goal of giving them their first loss.

Rutgers had a clear strategy going into the match and executed that game plan extremely well.

“We isolated areas of the field where we could excel and use to our advantage,” O’Neill said. “We were aggressive in the final third and didn’t give them much on the other side.”

Another instance of Rutgers’ constant pressure was junior forward Colby Ciarrocca scoring her third goal of the season.

The assist came from both freshman midfielder Nicole Whitley and senior captain Madison Tiernan, the two top scorers on the team.

The process began when Whitley flew a pretty corner kick into the box where Tiernan tapped it along to Ciarrocca.

The Montgomery, New Jersey, native proceeded to flip it over the keeper and into the net to give Rutgers a crucial insurance goal.

“Putting two in the back of the net was big,” Ciarrocca said. “We know we’re good, but every game in the Big Ten is a fight.”

Those remarks would prove to be very accurate come Sunday as Rutgers drew with an inferior Illinois squad.

The Fighting Illini had accrued three wins compared to seven losses on the season and they were attempting to snap a three-game losing skid after beginning Big Ten play with losses to Purdue and Indiana at home and against Maryland on the road.

The match was a true war of attrition as it ended in a 0-0 tie, after two extra time periods.

Illinois frustrated the Knights’ offense all day with a bend-but-not-break mentality.

“Sometimes the ball just doesn’t bounce your way,” Tiernan said. “We were creating chances but we just have to put this one behind us and move on.”

The rest of the team was equally disappointed in failing to capture the win, but on the bright side, Rutgers held Illinois without a shot on goal, a first this season.

The Knights notched their sixth consecutive shutout and seventh overall with goalkeeper Alana Jimenez lowering her goals-against average to 0.39 on the season.

“Clean sheets are something we pride ourselves in,” Jimenez said. “Our defense keeps getting better and is performing super well right now.”

The improving backline has only allowed one shot on goal in the last 200 minutes of game action.

After the draw, the all-time series between Rutgers and Illinois moves to 1-1-1.

Their next opportunities to triumph will be at Michigan Thursday night and at Michigan State Sunday afternoon.

“It’s a long season because of the quick turnaround between games,” O’Neill said. “We have some questions as far as shot efficiency and we need to find those answers soon.”

For updates on the Rutgers women's soccer team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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